For its target audience of Disney princess fans, Beauty and the Beast delivers exactly what you see in the trailer: a live-action recreation of the animated movie. You get all the same emotional highs and lows, albeit with a cast that reflects name recognition over vocal talent.
Basically, it’s an affordable alternative to visiting Disney World, with Emma Watson as the lead cosplayer.
With a few minor alterations like the controversial gay character (whose sexuality is almost invisible), Beauty and the Beast is an obsessively loyal adaptation. Unfortunately, some things just don’t work as well in live action. The furniture characters look uncannily realistic, and it’s weird to see a real human put their lips on the CGI body of Chip the teacup. The kaleidoscopic Fantasia sequence, “Be Our Guest,” loses some of its charm when performed by a gold candlestick with detailed humanoid features.
The original film used stylized animation to tell a fairytale story, creating a gothic fantasy world for the Beast and his castle. In the new version, a photorealistic Beast (Dan Stevens) threatens to starve Emma Watson, the U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for Women, unless she agrees to spend time with him. This is a much harder sell.
With live-action performers, it’s also easier to realize that everyone in Beauty and the Beast is kind of an asshole. This is good news for Luke Evans, who gives a deliciously over-the-top performance as the villain Gaston, undisputed king of the assholes. He gets the most energetic musical numbers, hamming it up as a sexist egomaniac with a perpetual smirk.
Emma Watson is less engaging as Belle, whose introductory song, “Bonjour” is the ultimate “I’m not like other girls” anthem. The remake expands on Belle’s status as the nerdy princess, giving her a side-gig as a budding engineer. It’s a smart, feminist update for an old-fashioned heroine, but the film undercuts it by pitting her against her peers. She enjoys reading, unlike the illiterate peasants from her village. She’s naturally beautiful, unlike the girls who wear makeup. She strolls past her neighbors while singing about how boring their lives are. It’s hard to tell if she’s an outsider heroine, or just a snob.
There’s no way to sugar-coat the creepiness of Beauty and the Beast‘s romance, especially since Disney avoids depicting any sexual attraction between Emma Watson and a CGI buffalo-lion. The Beast kidnaps Belle and locks her in his castle, and if you can’t get past the Stockholm Syndrome elements of that relationship, this isn’t the film for you. But if you still harbor romantic nostalgia for the animated movie (and many of us do), your main concern will be the nitty-gritty of how this film adapts the source material.
Many iconic moments will tug at the heartstrings of Beauty and the Beast fans, but the story might have been improved by a few more changes. In a live-action movie, it’s harder to tell a convincing love story between an independent woman and her immature, anger-prone kidnapper. So why not lean into the gothic romance of the original, and spend more time on their relationship instead of such a rapid transition from conflict to love? That way, Disney could stay true to the story while combating the difficulties of such an unbalanced relationship.